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Shanghai gears vocational training for growth

Chefs prepare their dishes at a vocational skill competition in Shanghai. To embed the ideals of skills training in the public mind, the city has created competitions where workers can win awards for the talents they have mastered. — CFP

Chefs prepare their dishes at a vocational skill competition in Shanghai. To embed the ideals of skills training in the public mind, the city has created competitions where workers can win awards for the talents they have mastered. — CFP

A validation team from WorldSkills International, a global organization that promotes vocational training, recently visited Shanghai to view the city’s efforts in vocational education and training.

Its itinerary included stops at the Le Cordon Bleu Shanghai Culinary Arts Academy, which opened in 2015 as a joint venture between the Shanghai Business and Tourism School and the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu Culinary Institute of France. The visit also took in the training center of the Shentong Metro Group, where workers learn skills in the mass transit system.

Both sites have won accolades for their vocational training programs.

The city is embarked on a campaign to help train people for the needs of the job market through vocational education programs that teach skills like auto repair, website design, mechatronics and floristry.

It aims to help migrant laborers and other low-skill residents who find themselves stuck on the bottom rungs of the job market ladder.

“We have laborers who have difficulties finding jobs, and at the same time, we have companies complaining they can’t recruit the skills they need,” said Gu Weidong, chief of the Department of Vocational Capacity Building at the Shanghai Human Resources and Social Security Bureau. “It reflects a mismatch in our job market and skill structure that we need to address.”

In the olden days, vocational training meant apprenticeships, where experienced hands taught a younger generation the skills of their trades. More formal vocational education was introduced in China in 1934, requiring all work sites with 50 employees or more to provide classes and on-the-job training.

Starting in the 1980s, technical training schools broadened their scope, adding literacy and other curricula to their programs.

At the end of 2015, Shanghai had 89 secondary vocational schools with 130,000 students, and 52 colleges providing higher vocational education for about 142,000 students. The system was underpinned by 95 training centers and hundreds of related facilities.

Fast industrial and economic development has left a gap between what vocational education provides and what employers are looking for in recruitment. That has led the city to reorient vocational training and invite employers to play a larger role in its configuration.

Since 2007, nine vocational education groups have been formed around specific skillsets, ranging from nursing and transportation to logistics. Vocational education teachers are now required to visit workplaces to see the latest trends first-hand.

Shanghai has initiated a pilot project allowing some vocational students to acquire academic degrees alongside their vocational qualifications. Students once consigned to what was considered a lower tier of education are now able to pursue undergraduate and even graduate diplomas.

The push for public awareness even extends to primary and middle schools, where young pupils visit vocational training sites every year.

The government provides subsidies to companies that provide vocational training for employees and has set up a public service platform for smaller companies that lack training capability. More than 80,000 employees participate every year.

A new apprentice program was launched in 2015 to encourage closer ties between companies and vocational schools. Participating apprentices can earn up to 8,000 yuan (US$1,160) a year within the first two years. In 2016 and 2017, 29 companies have been approved for the program, which involves 4,500 apprentices, including 3,100 new hires.

Training for migrant workers and for nursing care staff is among the top priorities.

“Many rural laborers come to Shanghai without any vocational training,” said Gu. “It is important to provide training for them to improve their skills and their earnings.”

Since 2010, more than 1.7 million migrant workers have undergone vocational training in Shanghai.

The city’s aging population has created a demand for more nursing staff. Shanghai has set a goal of training 100,000 nurses by 2020, including newcomers and existing care staff.

Shanghai’s ambition to become a world center of technology and innovation also creates demand for new skills.

Since 2011, Shanghai has established 89 centers to teach technical skills in the services sector, advanced manufacturing, emerging industries and agriculture. By the end of last year, Shanghai had allocated more than 2.3 billion yuan to fund the centers, which have already trained 960,000 people.

As incentive, the city also provides subsidies for chief technicians willing to pass on their skills. About 123 “skill master” workshops have been established with government funding to promote training in sectors deemed important to technological innovation.

To embed the ideals of skills training in the public mind, the city has created competitions where workers can win awards for the talents they have mastered. The contests attract more than 100,000 contestants a year.

Last year for the first time, Shanghai held a competition to select contestants to represent China in the WorldSkills Competition. Thirty-five people from Shanghai were selected to participate in a national training camp.

The city has applied to host the 46th WorldSkills Competition in 2021. The last competition was in Sao Paulo in 2015.

“The WorldSkills Competition has helped improve our awareness of vocational education and training,” said Gu. “We think we can learn more by hosting the event.”

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